We all create the ministries that we never had. I’ve heard all sorts of people say this in a variety of forms. Sometimes from of place of love and tenderness. At other times the sentiment has been shared from a less pleasant place. The driving philosophy, is that out of our wounds, we give birth to ministries and movements that we hope will heal us as much as it heals others we co-labor with. These are the ministries of the wounded healer. So many of the ministries I have led or been a part of have come from this place. The Queer ministry and advocacy organization I now run, however, kinda just happened.
Me at the first Brave Common’s Retreat for Queer Christian College Students. Their faces are turned because for many it is not safe to be out in their Christian Colleges.
Evangelicalism was supposed to be the cure. It was supposed to be the fix for chronic trauma and abuse – it was supposed to be my way out.
Instead of healing, however, it used the painful and twisted experiences of my upbringing to form me into the trope of an ex-gay tatted up Latino that would bring a myriad of college students to Jesus. I believed that was my way to heal. To recover. They promised new life. I signed up without reading the fine print.
Trauma, however, teaches you survival tactics. One of those was always to have one foot out of the door – no matter how invested or curious in something I might be, I’ve always felt ready to pack a bag and bolt. During my time as a campus minister in this world, I was able to do some triage to my old wounds, while new friends and family helped me navigate the new ones that were forming. This process meant that while some good things formed and grew out of the work, I got hurt, and I hurt plenty of folks as well. For that, I remain deeply sorry.
A right enough moment to exit made itself apparent and so I took it. My internal narrative had shifted around my sexuality and my body and my place in the world. I felt something internally blossoming, even while feeling stripped down and beat. The exit was a smooth as it could possibly be. I started dating a guy two weeks after turning in my resignation letter, doing a mostly terrible job of keeping that a secret. Secrets get exhausting after a while. They eat us alive on the inside. They take far too much energy. So I stopped cultivating a garden of secrets, and instead started tilling new land.
The new land I was venturing into was old land – the land of my body, of my ancestors, of other forgotten and dismissed and beat down folks. The land was fertile, but like most forgotten lands– it was tough and overgrown and needed careful gardening.
I was not very careful. I started leading bible studies and chatting about a Jesus that liberates two months after my exit from evangelicalism. I started seminary at an institution that would later be deemed a hostile environment to women by the Federal Government – a place I would call equally hostile to queer folk and people of color.
After a public campaign exposing the anti-queer abuses of the ministry I used to work for, I joined a ministry with some dude who was more intent on exploiting my labor and making a name for himself, than doing any actual ministry.
All the while, I’m trying to figure out who I am now that I’m in this whole new world. Although I came out to my Dad when I was 10, being out was an incredibly hostile situation at home, at school, and then later when I joined ROTC and signed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and again later in evangelicalism. I had not yet breathed in a space where I could fully out, and safely so.
I was in very new territory. It felt like learning to walk in the dark. I was interrogating everything I ever learned in evangelicalism. The ethics and the tactics and the philosophies. In the process of reassessing my theologies, I tried new ones on. I fell on my face a lot. I made disappointing mistakes. I got back up again. I fell again. Sometimes I felt pushed down. Sometimes I felt like I was collapsing on myself.
And somehow, I was still trying to do ministry. I think part of it was an attempt at penance. Some of it was definitely a twisted longing to get a fresh batch of followers and influence (so much of post-evangelicalism process, is recognizing how cultish the whole thing was). I wanted to be free, but without giving up the perks my old life had given me. What seemed like perks at the time at least. And part of it was this wounded healer’s desire to create the very ministry I wished I had.
I hit a point where letting another evangelical white dude exploit my labor and gaslight me seemed oddly familiar and so I decided to leave. That time I told myself I was done with ministry for the foreseeable future. I was still in seminary and so my life path seemed set. Changing trajectory gets exhausting. Trailblazing gets exhausting. So I stayed with the one thing I had left that felt familiar and safe. It turned out to be none of those things, but I could at least say that the ex-evangelical minister turned go-go dancer turned research assistant had something semi-stable to ground himself in.
People would ask me if I wanted to be a pastor, after all of this – I would often reply that I just wanted stability, and a real pay check.
Seminary seemed like a decent enough route – I had the skill set and the training, and seminary would afford me theological training and networks. So sticking around was another survival tactic. My bags weren’t packed anymore. I was tired of having one foot in and one foot out.
After presiding over the sacrament for the first time at The Reformation Project’s annual conference in Chicago last October, some folks started reaching out to me.
Student’s from different conservative Christian colleges and universities were reaching out asking for support. One school asked about how to respond to a problematic conference being held on its campus. Students at a different school asked for how to best execute a demonstration on theirs. I wasn’t looking to start anything. The trouble found me. This time it seemed like good trouble. The kind of trouble I read Jesus getting into. The kind of trouble that put a twinkle in Jesus’ eye before he would say something witty, and world-changing.
Soon we were all cylinders – sit ins and demonstrations, Christmas parties and protests.
My natural bent as a community organizer leaned into the growing movement. Out of this wild wandering through the wilderness, slaying demons, and yelling at God, Brave Commons was born.
Currently, Brave Commons is a loosely affiliated network of intersectional queer students at mostly conservative evangelical colleges and universities throughout the Midwest. We’ve hosted a contemplative retreat and a mini-conference of over 100 attendees in addition to the underground gatherings and bible studies and venting sessions and protests. These college students are bravely rising up and advocating for policy change in these evangelical institutions – in hopes of creating a safer and better future for these communities and communities throughout the world.
For a while I thought I was simply serving as a consultant, a community organizer, a network, and the like.
That was until a handful of students called me their pastor. I cringed. My stomach got all knotted and I wanted to throw up. And yet it made sense. People get to determine who will pastor them – they have the power to determine it, which means they have the right to take it away.
Evangelical leaders, across the board and regardless of their enneagram types, are obsessed with power: who has it, how do to get it, how to keep it, and how to take it away from folks. It leaves little room for the people led to display any self-determination.
These students are truly the leaders of this movement. They share power and resources, and they tell me how they need me to show up and when. When I do its often with snacks, sometimes a Bible, and always with a reminder about who we are and that Brave Commons exists to serve as an intersectional LGBT advocacy organization in all arenas towards this end:
that the liberating and healing message of the Gospel would be accessible and embodied for all – through the works of justice, mercy, and love to the very ends of the earth.
As we continue to grow and expand, we are asking that you consider supporting the movement financially, or sharing with others who would be interested in partnering in this way. Our goal is to raise an additional $2500 in monthly support.